Basic Facts About Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan in Northern Michigan. This national lakeshore comprises a vast stretch of sand dunes as well as the North and South Manitou Islands. Sleeping Bear Dunes is incredibly scenic and offers gorgeous views over Lake Michigan. 


The history surrounding the Sleeping Bear Dunes has much to do with ancient Chippewa mythology. According to legend, a bear and her two young cubs fled a roaring fire and attempted to swim across Lake Michigan. Though the mother made it safely to the other side, she was not able to save her cubs, who drowned before reaching the shore. It is said that the Great Spirit Manitou transformed the mother bear into a massive sand dune facing the lake, and her cubs into the North and South Manitou Islands.

In the 19th century, the Sleeping Bear Dunes region became an important part of the Great Lakes shipping industry, as it provided one of the only safe harbors en route to Chicago via the Lower Peninsula. As a result, farming became an important local industry as a means to supply the ships that passed through the harbor.

Sleeping Bear Dunes was established as a national lakeshore in the 1960s and 1970s and was acquired from private land, which caused some controversy. Ultimately, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore expanded to cover the surrounding area of Sleeping Bear Dune as well as the two Manitou Islands that it includes today.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses 35 miles of lakeshore along the coast of Lake Michigan. The region is characterized by massive sand dunes rising up from the shoreline which have been sculpted over time by wind and water. The area also protects several inland lakes and comprises the villages of Glen Arbor and Empire. 

The North and South Manitou Islands are also included within the reach of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and they are hilly, sandy, and partially forested. South Manitou Island is also home to a harbor on its eastern side.

Staying Safe at Sleeping Bear Dunes

A U.S. national lakeshore located in Northern Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes encompasses miles of sand dunes and the North Manitou and South Manitou islands. Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes provides a gorgeous and peaceful respite for nature lovers. Be sure to take the necessary safety precautions before your visit to this national lakeshore.


Cougars have been spotted in the area, though they are endangered. If you encounter a cougar during your visit, do NOT run. Instead, stand your ground and make yourself as large and intimidating as possible by extending your arms, making eye contact, and speaking loudly.

Be sure to check yourself often for deer ticks, both during and after your visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes, as they are common in the area and can cause dangerous diseases. Be sure to wear bug spray as an added precaution against deer ticks and other insects.

Other Concerns 

Sand dunes can be strenuous to climb up and can cause rocks and debris to fall down below you on your way down. Bring plenty of water and keep an eye out for anyone walking below you on the dunes to avoid harming them with your residual debris.

Cell phone coverage isn’t always reliable in this area, so make sure you have a physical map with you and familiarize yourself with your route before heading out. Follow the marked hiking trails when exploring in this area.

Bring a pair of sturdy hiking shoes with you for the forested trails in the area, and don’t forget a pair of flip flops or sandals to protect your feet on the hot sandy dunes and at the beach.

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